‘Eres a funny thing…
Have you heard the one about the two old bloggers who dragged themselves over to the Lyric Hammersmith to see a revival of Comedians, with the heaviest of hearts having read Trevor Griffiths‘ play has a running time of 3 hours?
And they didn’t look at their watches once.
Well, that’s a bit of a cheat really since Sean Holmes‘ production has a clock on stage which alarmingly shows real time – a risky move with a long three act play (or, even apparently one half that length in the case of Alistair McGowan’s Timing), but it at least meant Andrew wouldn’t be constantly tugging on Phil’s wrist.
Griffiths’ 1975 play, which is a bit of as timepiece itself, has a pleasingly straightforward construction: Act 1 has 6 aspiring working-class comedians trying to learn their craft under the tutorship of Eddie Waters (Matthew Kelly) in a Manchester evening class. Act 2 shows them performing their acts and Act 3 receiving a critique and (for some of them) earning contracts from an agent (Lily’s dad Keith Allen).
According the programme, Comedians has been translated into 20 languages and produced worldwide, facts which the Whingers found quite astonishing. Not becuase it’s not good, but because you would think that if you aren’t familiar with the Northern Comedy Club circuit or 70’s TV shows like Comedians or The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, you might – like WebCowGirl who was also there the same night – find youself at a bit of a loss. You might find it dated and simply find the jokes racist and offensive (as they are intended to be). Or you might, like both Whingers, be absolutely gripped, challenged, provoked into thinking and reflecting and have a terrific time.
This is Sean Holmes’ first production as director since taking over as Artistic Director at the Lyric Hammersmwith and this is an impressively polished and assured debut as far as we are concerned (apparently he had a practice run a few years ago with a pre-Dr Who David David Tennant!). He has assembled a sterling and somewhat eclectic cast (there’s even a League of Gentlemen alumnus in the form of Reece Shearsmith). It would be unfair to single out any particular performances.
But when has that ever stopped us? So, firstly, we were very pleased finally to get to see Matthew Kelly on stage. He used to be a genial TV host in Stars In Their Eyes and before that – as Winnie puts it – was on that programme where he came down steps laughing. Then suddenly he was a top class West End actor fêted for his Oliver-winning Lennie in Of Mice And Men, Victory at the Arcola and George in the recent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. For some reason the Whingers managed to miss all of these so it was nice to see someone we regard as a bit of a hero on the quiet and he didn’t disappoint us.
Andrew was also very impressed with Mark Benton who plays Ged Murray, one half of the sibling double act that’s doomed to failure.
Comedians was the play that made a star out of Jonathan Pryce and if there’s any justice it should do the same for Twiggy’s son* David Dawson who plays Gethin Price, the would-be comic with a radically different approach to comedy. He already stood out in Act 1 but when he performs his bizarre, surreal, mime/”comedy” in Act 2 he’s mesmerising, even more incredible really as what he’s doing could have misfired horribly and been very embarrassing to watch.
Strangely, we know some people who couldn’t stomach this and were aching for it to end. But for the Whingers’ money this is one classy production with some outstanding performances. And if we can sit and watch a production without any women in it (let alone a Dame) and a clock ticking on stage for nigh on three hours then, let’s face it, it really must have something to it.
* For reasons that are lost in the mists of time, David Dawson is always referred to by the Whingers as “Twiggy’s son”. He isn’t, as far as we know. We just call him that. Hope that clears up any misunderstanding. Thank you.